In this short handscroll, the artist-theorist Dong Qichang turns landscape forms into calligraphic abstractions. In the right half of the scroll, interlocking wedge-shaped masses create the illusion of a logical spatial recession. In the second half of the painting, logic is abandoned: ground planes shift, changes in scale are capricious, frequent contrasts between light and dark ink deny the blurring effects of atmosphere, and the illusion of recession is confounded by flat patterns of brushwork and patches of blank paper that continually assert the two-dimensionality of the picture surface.
As the painting's title suggests, the scroll invites the viewer on a journey that leads not only from illusionism to abstraction but from the external world of appearances to the inner world of the recluse's mind. In so doing, it visualizes the disparate worlds between which both the artist and the scroll's recipient, Dong's longtime friend Wu Zhengzhi (d. ca. 1619), must choose. In a long colophon inscribed after the painting, Dong praises Wu, who, like himself, chose to withdraw from government service to live in retirement:
I am like clouds returning to the mountain, You are like the rising sun. To go forth [and serve] or abide at home, Either is appropriate. Why must one live [in isolation like] the crane and gibbon? Only those who shun this world, Can live out their days in the Peach Blossom Spring [an idyllic community of hermits celebrated in poetry by Tao Qian (365–427)].
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Credit Line:Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wan-go H. C. Weng, 1990
Inscription: Artist's inscriptions and signatures
1. 3 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1611:
Invitation to Reclusion at Jingxi
On the Day of Man [seventh day of the first lunar month] of the xinhai year, Dong Xuanzai (Dong Qichang) painted this in the Baoding Zhai Studio.
2. 21 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1613:
I painted this for Cheru (Wu Zhengzhi 吳正志, jinshi degree 1589, d. ca. 1619), Assistant Minister of the Court of Imperial Entertainments, in the xinhai year (1611). This year, I was summoned from the retirement to serve, and so was he. I had already vowed not to serve, and Cheru also longed for a life of freedom, so I inscribed this scroll with a poem that was composed for another friend:
I am like clouds returning to the mountains; You are like the rising sun. It could be appropriate either to serve or to withdraw from office; Why must one live among cranes and gibbons! Hopefully those who shun the world would be allowed To live out their lives in the Peach Blossom Spring.
Bringing this painting with him as he goes to Jiangmen [Jiangxi Province , Cheru will peruse it now and then, and know that I do not behave myself as Kong Zhigui (447‒501). Three days after the mid-autumn [festival] in the eighth lunar month of the guichou year (October 1, 1613), your niandi [jinshi graduate of the same year], Dong Qichang from Huating [near Shanghai] wrote this while traveling by boat in Wuchang (Suzhou) .
I became acquainted with Xuanzai (Dong Qichang) before we passed the jinshi examination. At that time, his talent was already well known. Later we were selected to be “Advanced Sholars” (jinshi) in the same year [in 1589]. Our fellow scholars competed with one another to enter the Hanlin Academy. Even Xuanzai, who was placed at the top of the examination, was almost passed over by other candidates. I modestly didn’t take the examination and later was exiled to a remote post in consequence of certain offensive remarks I made, which made Xuanzai take me as his friend. Less than ten years later, he was also transferred from his position as a court historian to a provincial post. From Lake Mao [in Songjiang, Jiangsu Province] to Jingxi [a stream near Yixing, Jiangsu] it is almost 600 li [about 200 miles], but we visited each other by boat and communicated constantly. I once asked him for a painting. Though willing to do it, he never did. In the wushen year (1608), my naive rectitude again got me removed by the powerful and influential Chen Zhize (jinshi degree 1592) from my post as Assistant Minister of the Court of Imperial Entertainmnets, which I had held only briefly, and had me demoted to Administrator for Public Order in Huzhou [Wuxing, Zhejiang Province]. As Xuanzai was also disliked by this man, he sympathized with my plight and visited me at my Yunqi Lou Studio (Pavilion of Rising Clouds) with a gift of two scrolls and a painting. Now we are both out of office. Those who are jealous of Xuanzai would not let him come out of retirement. Although I am notbody, I also look up to the example set by Pengli [Tao Yuanming, 365‒427] to return home [from officialdom]. This painting, therefore, has become an omen. From now on, in the mountains where time moves slow, we white-haired brothers can visit each other in our boats loaded with calligrapies and paintings and communicate by letter, adament not to be the target of hunters. Why should we wait for an invitation to enter reclusion! On the summer solstice of the dingsi year (June 21, 1617), the Long-hibernating Idler, Wu Zhengzhi, made the note . [Seals]: Wu Zhengzhi yin, Wu Zhiju
 Wu had recently been assigned to the post of Assistant Surveillance Commissioner in Jiangxi. See Celia Carrington Riely, “Dong Qichang’s Life,” in Wai-kam Ho et al. The Century of Tung Chʻi-chʻang 1555-1636. Exh. cat. Kansas City, Mo.: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1992, vol. 2, p. 412.
 Kong Zhigui wrote a famous essay “Beishan yiwen 北山移文” rebuking a recluse who later accepted an official appointment.
 Translation after Maxwell K. Hearn’s in The Century of Tung Chʻi-chʻang 1555-1636, vol. 2, p. 28.
Mr. and Mrs. Wan-go H. C. Weng , New York (by 1962–90; donated to MMA)
Kansas City. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. "The Century of Dong Qichang," April 19–June 14, 1992.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Century of Dong Qichang," July 6–September 20, 1992.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Century of Dong Qichang," October 15, 1992–January 3, 1993.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30–January 3, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Millennium of Chinese Painting: Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," September 8, 2001–January 13, 2002.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," August 28, 2004–February 20, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632–1717)," September 9, 2008–January 4, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Traditions of China," August 26, 2017–January 6, 2019.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Companions in Solitude: Reclusion and Communion in Chinese Art," July 31, 2021–August 14, 2022.
Cahill, James. The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty, 1570–1644. New York: Weatherhill, 1982, pp. 104–105, pl. 39.
Suzuki Kei 鈴木敬, ed. Chûgoku kaiga sogo zuroku: Daiikan, Amerika-Kanada Hen 中國繪畫總合圖錄: 第一卷 アメリカ - カナダ 編 (Comprehensive illustrated catalog of Chinese paintings: vol. 1 American and Canadian collections) Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1982, pp. 1–89, cat. no. A13-055.
Gao Juhan (James Cahill) 高居翰. Shan wai shan: wan Ming huihua 1570–1644 山外山：晚明繪畫（1570–1644) (The distant mountains: Chinese painting of the late Ming dynasty, 1570–1644) Translated by Wang Jiaji 王嘉驥. Taipei: Shitou chuban gongsi, 1997, pp. 124–25, fig. 4.7.
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